Organizers from two-time U.S. Olympics bidder Anchorage, Alaska, say since they've knocked twice on the International Olympic Committee's door, they're more likely to be invited in to be host for the 1998 Winter Olympics.

But Salt Lake Olympics backers say their commitment to making the city a Western winter sports capital is the key to getting a foot in the international sporting door and to fast becoming acquainted with the IOC.The two cities are perhaps the front-runners in the race to secure the bid from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Some Olympic observers say the winner may be determined by whether the USOC wants the Olympics, which Anchorage says it can deliver from the IOC, or winter sports facilities, which Salt Lake City is committed to building.

"Does it make more sense to put an experienced candidate before the International Olympics Committee . . . or does it make sense to put a first timecity up that will have to go through the learning curve," said Rick Nerland, Anchorage Organizing Committee.

Nerland, Salt Lake organizers and Olympics backers from four other cities were in Portland during the weekend for a U.S. Olympic Committee meeting to sell their cities as future Olympics hosts.

In 1991, the U.S. bid city, to be chosen by the USOC in June, must take its Olympic package along with Nagano, Japan; and Ostersund, Sweden; before the IOC, which will make the final selection for the 1998 Winter Olympics host.

"We've been there longer than any of those two," Nerland said.

Anchorage has presented its bid for the 1992 and 1994 Winter Games before the International Olympic Committee and failed both times, but Nerland said Anchorage "has built equity with the IOC."

Salt Lake City, on the other hand, has a facilities financing package fresh from Capitol Hill to show commitment for winter sports facilities coveted by USOC delegates hungry for training grounds.

But Anchorage's time-tested relationship with the IOC doesn't impress members of the Salt Lake Winter Games Organizing Committee.

"We are not conceding, nor do we believe . . . that when Salt Lake City is selected to replace Anchorage that we will be in any greater likelihood of not receiving the bid," said Chairman Tom Welch.

"On the other hand, timing in this program is very critical," he said.

Anchorage organizers agree, saying it takes time to foster relationships with the IOC and educate the body on the virtues of an Olympics host. "Anchorage has been there for years," Nerland said.

Salt Lake Olympics organizers, however, don't accept the argument Anchorage has the upper hand because of its familiar presence.

"We don't buy into that they have an advantage just because they have been in the international arena for two Olympic efforts," said Mike Zuhl, Salt Lake committee member and chief of staff for Mayor Palmer DePaulis.

"You have to recognize that Utah . . . has an excellent international reputation," Welch added, pointing to Utah being host for the 1986 World Alpine Skiing Cup and scheduled 1989 Alpine and Nordic skiing cups.

And the city has learned about the international Olympics process from observing Anchorage's two failures. "We have been to school at Anchorage's expense. We have learned a lot from them," Welch said.

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The next steps in Olympics bid process

- MARCH - Bidding cities meet in Colorado Springs to learn final criteria for bidding with the USOC.

- APRIL - The USOC site-selection committee, which can recommend a potential host city to the USOC, visits bidding cities.

- JUNE - The USOC tentatively scheduled June 3 for choosing the U.S. bid city.